Battling a visual handicap, an 84-year-old Vedic scholar in Pune has written a biography of the architect of the Indian Constitution Dr B R Ambedkar in Sanskrit verse, possibly the first in the language.
Prabhakar Joshi lost his sight completely while working on the biography, work on which started in 2004. The book contains 1,577 Sanskrit 'Shlokas' covering the life span of Ambedkar.
A victim of glaucoma, Joshi, a recipient of Maharashtra government's 'Mahakavi Kalidas' award and a Sanskrit teacher, was immensely influenced by Ambedkar's mission to uplift the downtrodden.
When he started studying Ambedkar's life, he came across certain facts that inspired him to take up the unique project of his Sanskrit biography titled " Bhimayanam".
"Not many people know that it was an ardent desire of Ramji, father of Ambedkar, that his son should learn Sanskrit.
When Bhimrao opted for the subject after being enrolled in the Elphinstone High School in Mumbai he was in for rude shock as the teachers there refused to allow him to study Sanskrit because he was a Dalit.
Imparting knowledge of Sanskrit to 'lower caste' students those days was something to be frowned upon", Joshi said.
After pondering over this episode, Joshi thought of an "atonement of sorts" by way of versifying in Sanskrit, the life of Ambedkar whom he refers to as 'Mahamanav'.
A progressive glaucoma started affecting the vision of the octogenarian even as he persisted with his writing, at times overlapping words as a result of poor eyesight.
"I was losing my vision fast but my resolve to complete the work was getting firmer notwithstanding the visual handicap.
"My wife read the lines I had written and made them legible for further processing. Many times, I got up in the middle of night to write the words that came to my mind without knowing that ink had dried," Joshi says.
Explaining his method that led to completion of his work, he said, "I first summarised important milestones in Ambedkar's life and then got it taped. Then I kept listening to the audio again and again, pondering over my next verse".
According to Joshi, who taught Sanskrit at city's Fergusson College and was a guide at Pune University for many students doing their doctorates in Sanskrit, Ambedkar was a great supporter of the language which he regarded as mother of most of the regional tongues in the country.
Despite his strong opposition to the Brahminical dominance in the society and social discrimination that led him and his followers to embrace Buddhism, Ambedkar himself had mastered Sanskrit, which was identified with the upper caste learning and perpetuating "Sanatan" dharma, he said.
"Bhimayanam" was published under "Sharada Gaurav Granthamala" series by Pandit Vasant Gadgil.